3 Apr 2010

Power of High Court under Article 227 limited: Supreme Court

In a recent decision the Supreme Court has put to terms the power of 'superintendence' vested in a High Court in exercise of the extraordinary jurisdiction conferred upon it under Article 227 of the Constitution. In as much as all subordinate courts falling under the territorial jurisdiction of the High Court, the power of superintendence seems to be of wide sway. However the law, as it is settled and recently reaffirmed, is otherwise. The Supreme Court has consistently held that the power to interfere under this provision is limited and only to be exercised in exceptional cases. 

The Court in the recent decision stated the ambit of powers as under;
23. More than half a century ago, the Constitution Bench of this court in Nagendra Nath Bora and Another v. Commissioner of Hills Division and Appeals, Assam & Others AIR 1958 SC 398 settled that power under Article 227 is limited to seeing that the courts below function within the limit of its authority or jurisdiction.
24. This court placed reliance on Nagendra Nath’s case in a subsequent judgment in Nibaran Chandra Bag v. Mahendra Nath Ghughu AIR 1963 SC 1895. The court observed that jurisdiction conferred under Article 227 is not by any means appellate in its nature for correcting errors in the decisions of subordinate courts or tribunals but is merely a power of superintendence to be used to keep them within the bounds of their authority.
25. This court had an occasion to examine this aspect of the matter in the case of Mohd. Yunus v. Mohd. Mustaqim & Others (1983) 4 SCC 566 The court observed as under:- “The supervisory jurisdiction conferred on the High Courts under Article 227 of the Constitution is limited "to seeing that an inferior Court or Tribunal functions within the limits of its authority," and not to correct an error apparent on the face of the record, much less an error of law. for this case there was, in our opinion, no error of law much less an error apparent on the face of the record. There was no failure on the part of the learned Subordinate Judge to exercise jurisdiction nor did he act in disregard of principles of natural justice. Nor was the procedure adopted by him not in consonance with the procedure established by law. In exercising the supervisory power under Article 227, the High Court does not act as an Appellate Court or Tribunal. It will not review or reweigh the evidence upon which the determination of the inferior court or tribunal purports to be based or to correct errors of law in the decision.” 
26. This court again clearly reiterated the legal position in Laxmikant Revchand Bhojwani & Another v. Pratapsing Mohansingh Pardeshi (1995) 6 SCC 576. The court again cautioned that the High Court under Article 227 of the Constitution cannot assume unlimited prerogative to correct all species of hardship or wrong decisions. It must be restricted to cases of grave dereliction of duty and flagrant abuse of fundamental principles of law or justice, where grave injustice would be done unless the High Court interferes. 
27. A three-Judge Bench of this court in Rena Drego (Mrs.) v. Lalchand Soni & Others (1998) 3 SCC 341 again abundantly made it clear that the High Court cannot interfere with the findings of fact recorded by the subordinate court or the tribunal while exercising its jurisdiction under Article 227. Its function is limited to seeing that the subordinate court or the tribunal functions within the limits of its authority. It cannot correct mere errors of fact by examining the evidence and re-appreciating it. 
28. In Virendra Kashinath Ravat & Another v. Vinayak N. Joshi & Others (1999) 1 SCC 47 this court held that the limited power under Article 227 cannot be invoked except for ensuring that the subordinate courts function within its limits. 
29. This court over 50 years has been consistently observing that limited jurisdiction of the High Court under Article 227 cannot be exercised by interfering with the findings of fact and set aside the judgments of the courts below on merit.

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